By Kristen Nozell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For those looking to give to a worthy cause while traveling in Rio, there are plenty of opportunities. One is Casa do Caminho, an NGO (non-profit) that in addition to having a Portuguese language school, organizes work-day trips to the orphanage they are set up to support.
The school, Casa do Caminho (CDC) Language Centre in Ipanema, uses tuition to support the orphanage in Xerém, approximately 45km outside of Rio, and makes excursions to meet the children and help out in a big “Festa do Trabalho” (Work Party or Labor Day).
Jascha Lewkowitz is currently director of the language school, whose involvement with CDC began in 2007 as a volunteer at the orphanage in Xerém. He has been leading the Festa do Trabalho trips approximately every five weeks since the school’s founding in 2009.
He notes that while students choose to study Portuguese at Casa do Caminho for the location and price, many students are also drawn to the school specifically because of the mission to support the orphanage.
For those students, “the Festa de Trabalho is a really important day. It gives us the opportunity to explain and show what the destination is of the profit. Sometimes I have the feeling that students think that the orphanage is only a marketing tool, but by organizing this day, the students will directly see and experience that the connection between the school and orphanage is real.”
The orphanage, which was founded in 1982, originally served as a homeless shelter but began to focus on children and adolescents in the 1990s. Now, approximately thirty children, ranging in age from a four to eighteen years old, call Casa do Caminho home at any given time.
Participants of the Festa do Trabalho have a full day, arriving around noon after an hour and a half long bus ride along bumpy dirt roads to the orphanage’s “Comunidade Verde”.
This spacious, green retreat serves as a weekend camp of sorts for the children, who live in houses closer to the center of Xerém in order to be closer to schools and healthcare facilities, and additionally provides a model of sustainable living with its gardens.
After a tour of the facility and getting to know the children and volunteers over lunch, the “trabalho” part of the day begins, with CDC volunteers, students and children all working together on various tasks ranging from lunch cleanup to repainting interior and exterior walls.
During the most recent excursion, which took place on August 10th, preparations were also underway for Festa Agostina, a festival that the orphanage would be hosting the following weekend. Casa do Caminho student Ramón Paauw helped to build a barraca (hut) for the upcoming party. “It was nice that I was able to help them out with a construction problem”, he said, adding that he found working with the children to be the most rewarding part of the day.
The work winds down in the early evening and participants, volunteers and children come together for a churrasco, ending with a capoeira performance by the youth. After farewells with newfound friends, the CDC students return to Ipanema, arriving back at the school around 11PM.
Paauw said he would definitely recommend the Festa do Trabalho to other students: “I think it is good to see the other part of Brazil. Brazil is more than Ipanema Beach.”
Lewkowitz adds, “It’s always beautiful to see the connection between the children and the students. All children of CDC need extra attention and love and the students give this directly and indirectly on this day.”